Scrap IATF Resolution 148-B! Panawagan ng mga Manggagawa: Bakuna, Trabaho, Ayuda at Serbisyo para sa Lahat!

The Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development condemns the Inter-Agency Task Force Resolution 148-B [1] and demands for its revocation. Its provisions not only threaten jobs, but also make it almost impossible for people to carry out with their daily lives.

Requiring mandatory vaccination without clear guidelines on determining adequacy of vaccine supply, on top of the gross inequality of vaccine distribution outside NCR [2], puts workers at risk for unemployment or dismissal, especially in provinces. Forcing workers to spend on testing in exchange for vaccination pushes them further into debt. Providing incentives to business establishments with better vaccination practices forces workers to get the jab or lose their job at the expense of their employer’s profit. And, limiting access to transportation, and public and private establishments with preferential treatment in government services to those vaccinated creates selective freedom to those already privileged with abundant vaccine supply, leaving the rest of the population locked down and farther behind.

All of these absolve the government of its responsibility to control this pandemic through comprehensive, free, and accessible testing, tracing, treatment and prevention measures, and shift the burden to individual efforts once again.

For a better control of this pandemic, we urgently call on the government to:

1) Publish data on vaccine supply, distribution and percent vaccinated per priority group and per region. In addition to transparency, this is needed to highlight how the rest of the country is faring relative to NCR. This will identify areas of concern, which the national government should focus on in terms of vaccine allocation, and the local government, its citizens and various organizations can engage with through increased information campaigns, consultations, and dialogues for better vaccination coverage.

2) Ramp up on-site vaccination among workers especially in special economic zones (SEZ’s). Evaluate the onsite vaccination mandate in Special Economic Zones, as stated in Philippine Economic Zone Authority Memorandum Circular 2021-040 [3]. The mechanism to have this done is already laid out, whether it is to establish own vaccination sites, mobilize vaccination teams from the local government, or coordinate with the National Vaccines Operations Center. Yet the vaccination coverage of the A4 priority group has not reached 50% in Region III, IVA, VII despite including Pampanga, Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Metro Cebu in the priority of vaccine allocation [3,4] If we truly want to reach herd immunity, this protocol should be revisited, modified, and ramped up to reach greater coverage among our essential workers, which comprises 35.5 million of the population [5].

3) Provide paid vaccine leave for a minimum of three (3) days to accommodate the actual schedule for vaccination and rest days for its adverse effects.Similar to the difficulty in COVID case detection and close contact identification, the lack of compensation for days missed at work poses a hindrance for workers in getting the vaccine. Providing paid vaccine leaves will bring us one step closer to having workers vaccinated.

4) Guarantee compensation for vaccine-related adverse effects. Since COVID-19 vaccines are operating under Emergency Use Authorization only [6], we cannot completely allay the fears that individuals have on the uncertainty of its side effects. While we can present results of the studies showing how rare they are, the assurance of medical and financial support for side effects would make more of us at ease to receive the jab. It is the government’s responsibility after all to be accountable for these as it is the one who granted permission to have COVID-19 vaccines used. There is an allotted 500 million pesos under the indemnity fund for these situations and it should be used accordingly [7].

5) Require COVID-19 and vaccine education campaigns at work. Workers spend most of their time in the workplace and this should be maximized to bridge the gap on information regarding COVID-19 and vaccines. While numerous materials are available on television and social media, these are often inaccessible due to limited internet connection, access to television, and time for seeking out news. Most of these are presented in a language that is difficult to understand for most and will not tackle unique and personal concerns they may have. Instead of putting their jobs on the line in exchange for vaccination, we should not tire of listening to their concerns and providing correct, relevant, and timely information to allow them to make an informed choice.

6) Ensure that all workplaces to have functioning Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) committees. It is alarming that the lack of organized OSH committees is listed in the top 3 violations among the 70,902 establishments inspected by DOLE-DTI until Oct. 31 [8]. Together with it are non-submission of monthly compliance reports online and failure of safety officers to ensure strict implementation of minimum health protocols. Clearly, we cannot expect consistent implementation and regular monitoring and evaluation of COVID-19 protocols without trained personnel who are knowledgeable on these and the hazards in the workplace. OSH programs, including mandatory lectures on COVID-19, vaccines and other health concerns are anchored on these committees and will not be sustainable without them. Given their role, it is high time that DOLE enforces all establishments to have OSH committees and uphold the OSH Law. Besides providing training, require employers to make them eligible for regular employment with adequate benefits and pay to reflect the value that they hold and encourage more individuals to take up these roles.

7) Support workers’ OSH committees. Workers need to take an active role in the protection of their safety and health and this can be achieved through the establishment of their own committees. Through this, they can elevate their concerns, craft solutions specific to their situation, and modify current practices for more effective implementation of protocols, including information dissemination among co-workers especially when it comes to COVID-19 and vaccines. Through OSH training and close coordination with the company-led OSH committee, this will provide a more comprehensive approach, with a check and balance system, in creating a safe and healthy workplace. These workers’ OSH committees are needed now more than ever as workers are left to look after their own welfare.

8) Provide free, accessible, and timely testing. Vaccines alone will not put an end to the pandemic. From the beginning, emphasis is placed on an effective system for case finding, contact tracing, treatment, and prevention but this is yet to materialize. Using routine testing as punishment rather than as the initial step for case finding will prevent us from determining the actual burden of COVID-19 infection in the country.

9) Increase the capacity of the health care system at the level of the community. Time and again the pandemic showed us how our health care system is focused on cure rather than prevention. The unequal capacities of the local government to provide adequate and affordable care pushed patients to flock to tertiary hospitals in Manila, which were already filled as COVID-19 cases rose.

While the call for increase in budget allocation for health, hiring of healthcare personnel, adequate pay and social protection, and provision of proper hospital facilities remain, it is important to recognize that health care services should not be decentralized. These should be funded by the national government based on the needs of each community to ensure hiring of adequate personnel, provision of uniformed services with a good standard, and access to appropriate facilities all over the country.

Similar to the power a workers’ OSH committee holds, a well-supported community health system can address concerns specific to their area and modify programs to be more effective in their setting. This could have been the mechanism by which faster control of COVID-19 transmission and wider vaccine coverage could be achieved. This should become the norm to strengthen primary care at its roots and prevent losing lives due to lack of access to care.

People’s health is the government’s responsibility and should be reflected in its policies. The unvaccinated are already at an increased risk to succumb to fatal COVID-19 infection and this resolution will only push them closer to their deaths as it cuts off their access to services necessary for life. While vaccination of a significant number of the population is needed to achieve protection for all, multiple factors should be addressed for better vaccine coverage rather than taking the easy way out and imposing punishment on those unvaccinated.

Let us not allow this administration to further pit us against each other for services that everyone is entitled to receive as citizens of this country.

Scrap IATF Resolution 148-B!

No to mandatory vaccination!

Provide comprehensive informed consent to all!

Bakuna, trabaho, ayuda at serbisyo para sa lahat!

[1] Inter-Agency Task Force for the management of emerging infectious diseases (2021). Resolution No. 148-B. Retrieved from https://iatf.doh.gov.ph/…/20211111-IATF-Resolution-148B…

[2] ABS-CBN News (2021, Nov 17). COVID-19 Tracker Philippines. Retrieved https://infogram.com/1p20r9gmmkvgnkf0vde62j0vkvfr0qkpxgm

[3] Philippine Economic Zone Authority (2021). Memorandum Circular No. 2021-040. Retrieved http://www.peza.gov.ph/documents/mc2021040.pdf

[4] National Vaccines Operation Center (2021, Nov 10). COVID-19 Vaccine Daily Bulletin No. 253

[5] Cordero, T. (2021, May 29). NEDA: 35.5M workers included in simplified A4 vaccination priority group. GMA News Online. Retrieved https://www.gmanetwork.com/…/neda-35-5m-workers…/story/

[6] Food and Drug Administration. Emergency Use Authorization. Retrieved https://www.fda.gov.ph/list-of-fda-issued-emergency-use…/

[7] Congress of the Philippines (2021, Feb 26). Republic Act 1152: An Act Establishing the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Vaccination Program Expediting the Vaccine Procurement and Administration Process, Providing funds therefore, and for other purposes. Retrieved https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/…/20210226-RA-11525…

[8] Bureau of Working Conditions (2021, Oct 31). The report on the Monitoring of Compliance with Joint Memorandum Circular 20-04A. Retrieved https://bwc.dole.gov.ph/jointmonitoringresult

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